Anderson, IN asked in Real Estate Law for Indiana

Q: Can emails stating there is an agreement override the fact that you can't have a verbal agreement to buy a house?

I have several emails discussing that we took over the house and that the seller would write an agreement. This never happen and now she wants to change the agreement after we have paid on it for 2 years. Can I stop her from doing this?

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2 Lawyer Answers
Charles Snyderman
Charles Snyderman
  • Wilmington, DE

A: An email exchange can form the basis for a valid, enforceable contract. The question is whether the emails contain enough documentation of the essential terms that must be agreed on.

Michael R. Smith agrees with this answer

Michael R. Smith
Michael R. Smith
  • Indianapolis, IN
  • Licensed in Indiana

A: I agree with Mr. Snyderman. In addition to the question of whether the email messages contain enough documentation of the essential terms, there can also be a question of whether the email messages are "signed."

However, the situation that you describe presents a slightly different question than whether email messages can satisfy the statute of frauds (the legal name for the requirement that some contracts, including contracts for the sale of real estate, must be in writing and signed). There are a number of exceptions to the statute of frauds, and at least two of them may apply to the situation you describe. One exception is if the other side admits that a contract existed, and it seems unlikely that the seller would deny that a contract exists. Another exception is if the contract has been partially performed -- for example by the seller transferring possession of the property to the buyer and the buyer making payments. If a situation falls into an exception to the statute of frauds, there is no requirement for a written document. Instead, the problem becomes to prove the exact terms of the agreement, and that can be done by any admissible evidence, and the email messages may well be admissible evidence (assuming they actually state what the terms of the original agreement actually were). Terms of the contract can also be established by testimony; of course, the seller's testimony may contradict the buyer's testimony, in which case the judge or jury would have to decide who to believe.

I suggest you consult an attorney -- and make sure you give the attorney copies of the messages and any other documents that might be relevant.

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